“The expedition to Alaska that I was planning to make with my husband, Luka Lindič, fell through in April 2020. All scheduled events and talks were cancelled or postponed indefinite-ly. Suddenly, I had nothing but time on my hands.”
— Ines Papert | LOWA PRO Team
Fingertips & Pedals
Two women, 600 kilometres, 18,000 metres elevation, six rock faces and one month: The two German Alpinists Caro North and Ines Papert hopped onto their mountain bikes in the sum-mer of 2020 and journeyed from the eastern side of Switzerland to the western side to scale of few of the country’s big rock faces on routes that were completely new to the two of them.
The ethics of their journey were quite clear: They were determined to use only the power of their legs and the instinctive feel of their hands to accomplish their goal. The LOWA PRO Team athlete Ines Papert reports about her adventure.
As professional climbers, we are always on the lookout for the next big adventure tucked away in the world’s most remote regions. Places like the Antarctic, the Himalayas, Baffin Island, Patagonia, to name just a few. As we do so, we assume the major responsibility of protecting the environment in which we live, the mountains and nature itself. We also help to spread the word about this critical task.
But how can you square environmental protection with the constant flights to travel around the world? You simply cannot.
The travel restrictions imposed in 2020 suddenly created a lot of time to reflect on life and to adapt our lifestyles to the current situation. Climate change must be stopped in its tracks, and as an am-bassador and world-class athlete it was high time for me to do something about it.
After taking a spin on my bike, I was sitting on the sunny terrace of my home in the mountains of Berchtesgaden, Germany, and was overwhelmed by the desire to set off on a mountain-bike journey.
But who would go along with me? Caro North immediately came to mind. She is a friendly, young and really ambitious Alpinist whom I got to know in Patagonia. Caro and I planned to haul our gear in a bike cargo trailer and live off of local products. Naturally without using any sort of support vehicle.
We agreed on our goal after a few phone calls: Caro’s homeland, Switzerland, with its many leg-endary rock faces. In August 2020, I climbed out of the train in Feldkirch, Austria, and reached the train station in Sargans, where I was to meet Caro, just before the heavens opened up.
Thanks to her dreadlocks, I spotted her straight away. We fell into each other’s arms, and I immedi-ately felt Caro’s enthusiasm. Our first climbing goal was the Rätikon mountain range. A demanding and steep ride. The road snaked, curve after curve, up the mountain. Our pedalling rhythm was slow, but steady. The heat did a number on us as well.
We had to remind each other to take it slowly so that we would have enough energy left in our tanks for the climb that was to follow. If that weren’t enough, the cargo trailer packed with all of our gear weighed somewhere between 35 and 40 kilograms. It was an extra burden, to say the least.
Our first climbing tour began in the morning. We set off on the Intifada in the middle of Schweizereck, an area that had somehow managed to remain dry. A unique slab pitch we encountered right at the start demanded everything we had. After battling the bike, we really had a hard time trying the stand precisely on our feet. We worked our way upwards, pitch by pitch. We still lacked the smooth rhythm of a well-versed team. At one point, the sun began to beat down on the rock face, and we had to fight the heat as we completed the final pitches of the day. In the evening, we grilled our meal with friends and celebrated our first route on a major rock face on this expedition.
After a long downhill ride, we headed off to Chur on our way to Disentis. We spent much of the trip on the Rhine bike path, heading in the direction of the river’s source in Oberalp Pass. By the time we reached our next climbing route at the Teufelstalwand (the Devil’s Valley Face) above Andermatt, we had covered quite a few kilometres and climbed a number of vertical metres.
The aim here was to secure ourselves in granite. Caro was right at home here and showed just how adept she is at crack climbing. But, then, things took a turn: We ran out of gas for our stove. We failed to find an open shop on this long weekend. We then went onto Facebook and found a climber who agreed to help us out and lent us two canisters above the Sustenpass.
The climbing community is simply great. It is always willing to help out wherever it can.
That’s a good thing, too, because we soon realized that we needed three times the food that we usually require for a normal day of climbing. Food is our fuel. That meant that we always had to re-member where the nearest shop was.
Efficiency became more and more important. We wanted to avoid any unnecessary routes, limited ourselves to the bare minimum of our gear and realised that lightness meant speed, much like the Alpine style of climbing.
The ascent to the Sustenpass was quite a challenge. It was raining, and we climbed faithfully higher and higher. Once we reached the pass (2,224 m), we took off our sweat-soaked shirts and slipped on some decent jackets. The ride down was a lot a fun, that is, until it started to rain again and the rear brakes on my bike gave up the ghost. A feeling of minor panic set in. I knew that I would have to have the brakes fixed the next chance I had.
After reaching the campsite in Gaumen, we treated ourselves to our first day off in ten days. We wanted to be well rested when we climbed the Wendenstöcken, which still had to dry out.
A final climb on the bike led us to the Wendenalp. We could now set off on foot again. It was a hot summer day. The rock faces were exposed to the south. Not a breath of wind was stirring, and our ambitious plans melted away during the approach.
The imposing Excalibur pillar rose up before us. But while we were traversing to the approach, our joy suddenly turned to fear. We got caught in a massive rockfall that came out of nowhere. Rocks and entire boulders landed all around us, and the only thing that we could do was seek shelter be-hind our rucksacks. After it was over, the rockfall left behind a scent of sulphur and some weak knees. We were lucky. But we had a hard time getting psyched up again for the adventure that lay ahead.
“The Excalibur route provided us with just the right level of difficulty after this frightening moment. Still, it wasn’t easy. Carefully secured, along with some unsteady friction steps, over and over again.”
— Ines Papert | LOWA PRO Team
In Innertkirchen, we finally had the brakes on my bike fixed and took on an additional 500 vertical metres so that we could get off the heavily travelled road. Our next goal was the Geneva pillar of the legendary north face of the Eiger.
After reaching the Eiger, we found a spot for our small tent that had a nice view. I could not wait for the next day. But, during the night, the wind picked up considerably and the temperature plummeted. We decided to put off our start. At the approach, we had to warm our toes first, and then Caro started the first pitch. We moved every so gingerly forward, unable to feel our fingers and toes. And, then suddenly, the moment occurred in which her mind had different plans from her body. She tried one more time to climb from the last bolt to the stand.
By this time, I could not feel my fingers because of the cold. The final pitches turned into quite a fight. After reaching the middle section of the rock face, we realised that we would not have enough time to climb to the top. Fortunately, we had an escape route on the right. We left our material behind and picked it up during the climb on the next day.
We had to spend a few days on our bikes until we reached our next destination. On the way, we took a route on the South Face of the Gastlosen. We had been riding late into the evening ever since we left Interlaken. And why not? There was less traffic on the roads then. We had also fallen a little be-hind schedule since having to take a break. The weather was the deciding factor in all of our climbs. But you can always ride the bike, even when the weather turns bad.
In the Rhone Valley, the wind pushed us in the direction of Martigny before we headed straight uphill to the Great St Bernard. We stopped to visit friends and picked up all of the material we needed to take on an Alpine route in wintery conditions. The next day, we set off on the bikes again and head-ed to the “Cabane du Trient”, a hut that is located more than 3,000 m high on the Swiss side of the Mount Blanc region that we finally reached by foot. The golden granite tips of the Aiguilles Dorées high above the Val Ferret greeted us in the evening. We hoped that the new snow had turned into useful walking snow by now.
Our final day of climbing made my dreams come true and then some. The light, the views, the climb-ing, the conditions… everything was perfect, but challenging for our weary legs: The entire traverse from east to west was long and always presented you with a challenging climbing section to conquer. We climbed over the ridge to reach our last summit, the Aig. de la Varappe at 3,513 m. Caro and I hugged each other tightly, and every minor disagreement was forgotten.
“I could not have imagined a better ending for our expedition in Switzerland.”
— Ines Papert | LOWA PRO Team